Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A WaterSmart Innovations 2017 Report Back

By Michael Dukes

WaterSmart Innovations is a can’t miss meeting for me because it is the single meeting of the many meetings I attend annually that focuses on water conservation. For me that means irrigation water conservation, but the meeting also covers indoor water conservation. It’s a good chance to let people know some of our latest results and to learn what types of research and implementation is happening with regard to irrigation water conservation in other areas of the country.
Given our proximity to the tragedy on the Las Vegas strip there was a somber feeling and mood to the beginning of formal sessions. We observed a moment of silence for respect to the victims. Doug Bennett, program chair, sent out a message regarding the tragedy. To sum it up he encouraged us to carry on in our small way to make the world a better place.
In the Audience
I chose sessions related to irrigation water-use; specifically about reducing peak demand through the use of smart controllers, education and or landscape modification. These are all topics we work on and I wanted to see the latest implementation from across the country. It’s noteworthy that smart controllers are no longer new and niche products. They are being implemented widely across the U.S. and many people are familiar at least in general what they are. Just a few years ago they were “new” and we had to explain what they were to people.

At the Podium
I was also tasked with presenting our work on the pressure regulating spray head (PRB) testing that was used by the EPA WaterSense program to develop their new spray sprinkler body specification. I feel it went well considering it was laden with technical details (I tried to trim as much as possible, but it’s a technical subject at the end of the day) and may have been boring to some non-tech folks. 
I got a number of technical questions and as a follow up met with some folks from California (CA). The CA Energy Commission is researching appliances for energy efficiency and water efficiency is directly related. In the near future (2019) they will have requirements for PRBs. I understand that non-PRBs will not be sold in CA after some transition date in the future. We may have the opportunity to do some more PRB testing in the lab to answer some of their questions. In fact a project proposal is currently being prepared!
Take Away
There were many good talks. Personally I was very interested in the talk by Joanna Endter-Wada about extension working with utilities in Utah to provide water consumption information to consumers. By understanding their detailed seasonal irrigation patterns and delivering targeted educational messages, they were able to significantly reduce over-irrigation. Excellent example of extension impacting stakeholders!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Researching Water Conservation Strategies with Dr. Mackenzie Boyer

This past summer Mackenzie Boyer successfully defended her PhD thesis and completed her work at UF-ABE. Dr. Boyer was the rare graduate student who returned to school following a stint in the professional world as a consulting engineer. As part of the Dukes research team she published the first journal article documenting water-savings in Florida-Friendly Landscape-certified (FFL) homes. Her work assessing effectiveness of outdoor watering restrictions in Florida was also novel terrain. On her most recent visit to Florida, Dr. Boyer agreed to speak with IrriGator about her research and more.

Dr. Mackenzie Boyer on defense day
What was the focus of your PhD research?
MB: The focus has been studying watering billing records to determine people’s irrigation habits in the Tampa Bay Water region (the SWFWMD area) trying to understand individual customer use for irrigation and then to also understand customer responses to irrigation conservation measures. So looking historically at how well the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program has done, and how well water restrictions have done and then also projecting into the future how well could a utility do if they were to adopt different conservation strategies.

You came back to graduate school from the professional world. How do you feel this informed your perspective as a student?
MB: The first part of my career focused a lot more on the smaller details of water treatment and water system designs, but what was missing was more of the planning aspect – the big picture. I recognized what was missing in the work that I was doing with water and that’s one of the reasons why I went back to school. A great thing about this project is that we’re working directly with Tampa Bay Water and SWFWMD and the utilities. I feel like we’re impacting the supply side of water more so with our research now.

Dr. Boyer's area of focus in Florida
You recently relocated from Florida to Arizona. Do you get a sense that people relate to water differently out West?
MB: They do relate to it differently. Xeriscapes are much more popular there than FFL is here. But there are still a lot of homeowners that have turfgrass in the desert where you need to put 7 or 8 feet of water on your landscape during the course of the year. I think there is an appreciation of the amount of water that goes into a landscape in that alternative landscapes are accepted at a much larger scale. But for the people who choose to have turfgrass there isn’t the concern about water conservation or the right ways to irrigate your landscape.

The Dukes program tends to attract and develop really skilled water researchers. Do you have any insight as to why?
MB: This is a very important problem in residential water use. 50% of the potable water that goes to homes in the US ends up on people’s landscapes. This is a large area of potential conservation and the research that this group is doing can address an immediate need for better ways to conserve our potable water.

Dr. Mackenzie Boyer circa 2013

Currently you are prioritizing raising your family, but looking ahead to when you return to the work force how would you describe your ideal job?
MB: I hope to work in some area of academia or some area where I’m working directly with utilities. I’d really like to be helping inform utilities on their customers’ irrigation use and methods of conservation that would be applicable to their customers. The type of work that I did using water billing records, a lot of utilities are doing. There is a growing amount of data available to utilities and trying to help them to use that data to affect their water demand would be ideal.

There seems to be a lot of interesting work being done at Arizona State University and some of the cities like the city of Phoenix and the City of Scottsdale. Hopefully I can join some of their work and be able to contribute to it. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Looking Ahead to WaterSmart Innovations 2017

Next week researchers, utility personnel and other water-use professionals converge on Las Vegas, NV, for 2017’s WaterSmart Innovations Conference (WSI). UF-ABE will be present in the form of two researchers from the Dukes group. Here is a look at what they will present at the event and other talks we are looking forward to learning more about.

UF’s contribution to this year’s conference focuses on irrigation technology. Research Associate Bernard Cardenas is presenting on the effectiveness of soil moisture sensor technology when used in residential irrigation systems on reclaimed water. Dr. Michael Dukes will discuss recent work on the pressure regulating spray head testing that was used by the EPA WaterSense Program to develop their new spray sprinkler body (SSB) specification. Did the high-nutrient content in reclaimed water interfere with soil moisture readings? Does SSB pressure regulating capacity vary at different flow rates? All will be revealed at WSI!

Sessions and More Sessions
WSI always offers a host of informative presentations. As Dr. Dukes said: “It’s a good chance to let people know some of our latest results and to learn what types of research and implementation is happening with regard to irrigation water conservation in other areas of the country.” Noteworthy talks this year range from water reuse to social media marketing to smart irrigation technology. Here are some sessions we are excited about:
  • Rainwater and Graywater Myth Busters
    Patrick Dickinson, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas
  • A Wild West Tale: Debunking the Myth That Conservation Increases Rate - Candice Rupprecht, Tucson Water
  • You Can’t Play Soccer in a Perennial Bed: The Case for Turf Sustainable Landscape -Paul Johnson, Utah State University for Water Efficient Landscaping
  • How We Got 10,000 Facebook Followers - Clint Wolfe, Texas A&M Agrilife Water University
  • WaterSense in Jeopardy: Saving the EPA Water Labeling Program - Mary Ann Dickson, Alliance for Water Use Efficiency
  • Water Conservation in Urban Communities: How the SNWA Does It - Jared Bilberry, Southern Nevada Water Authority 

WaterSmart Innovations always shares presentation pdf files at the end of conference week. Stay tuned for that and, whether you are attending or not, make sure to follow and contribute to conference goings-on on Twitter using #WSI2017.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Reporting Back from the Primer Simposio de Investigaciòn Agrìcola Latinoamericana in Honduras

Earlier this month UF-ABE PhD Candidate Maria Zamora traveled to Central America to present her research at the first ever Simposio de Investigacion Agricola Latinoamericana. Ms. Zamora studies how nutrients and water interplay in the soil profile in agricultural settings. The work she presented at the symposium was titled: Using soil moisture sensors to monitor irrigation in corn production in Florida. Upon returning from her travels, Ms. Zamora spoke to IrriGator about her experience.

How did you get invited to present at the Simposio de Investigacion Agricola in Universidad Zamorano?
MZ: A former graduate student from UF, Dr. Emmanuel Torres-Quezada, was hired as a professor at Zamorano. He has different ideas about how to collaborate with universities around the world so he developed this symposium, which is the very first symposium in Zamorano focused on how we can use technology to improve production in different agricultural crops.

What can you tell us about your symposium experience?
MZ: It was a one day symposium and the idea was to present to growers, students and faculty ongoing research that arrives at solutions using technology. For example, my talk was about how we can use soil moisture sensors to determine when and how to irrigate, and how we can translate that into water-savings and nitrogen leaching reductions to avoid the environmental impacts of nitrogen leaching.

The idea was to demonstrate how research can be applied and how we can help growers using different technology. We covered topics like irrigation, using bio-fertilizers, and using different types of materials to reduce contamination with plastics.
Maria Zamora presents her research at Universidad Zamorano
Any talk you were especially interested in?
MZ: I really liked one talk from a Zamorano faculty member - Dr. Emmanuel Torres-Quezada. He is trying to adopt practices developed during his dissertation here at UF to conditions in Honduras. He works with optimizing early yield in strawberry production. They are trying to find ways to acclimate plants, or bring them in acclimated, to reduce inputs but still achieve high yields. It’s ongoing research but it’s interesting how they are using strategies that worked here in other places like Honduras.

Maria Zamora uses Sentek soil mositure probes in her work 
How was your talk received?
MZ: There was lots of interest in the project and how it was performed. Water and fertilizer is an issue not just in Florida but other places. One researcher approached me later asking about reducing nitrogen leaching in a soil like theirs, which is completely different. I mentioned to her that sensors can be helpful for monitoring how nutrients are leached into the soil profile; however, they can use simpler techniques like measuring for nitrogen in their runoff if leaching is suspected. Using the same principles in my presentation it was easy for me to explain to her how she can help growers visualize that they are losing nutrients.

Are there plans to continue this symposium in the future?
MZ: People were very engaged and the feedback was very good so I believe they will try to do it again next year or the following year. That’s the main goal. Since this was the first one they wanted to be sure people were interested. It turned out well. Hopefully it will be a channel of communication between the university, students, faculty, and growers so everyone can have research-based feedback. All the research was evidence-based and then translated into how it could be applied. It was a good breakdown of research and extension – bringing research-backed findings to the people in a way that can be applicable.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

2017 HERS Leadership Institute: An Inside Look with Dr. Kati Migliaccio

This summer UF-ABE professor Dr. Kati Migliaccio traveled to Pennsylvania for two weeks of intensive training at Bryn Mawr College. Dr. Migliaccio took part in one of HERS' Leadership Institutes for women in higher education. As one training participant shared on Twitter: “There is such a need for leadership and women in leadership in higher ed.” IrriGator approached Dr. Migliaccio to speak about her experience at #HERSBrynMawr17 and she kindly agreed.

Image via @HERSInstitutes
Can you tell us about your two week training experience at Bryn Mawr?
KM: The event was the 2017 HERS Training at Bryn Mawr. There are 3 locations for the training each year. One is at Wellesley, one is in Denver, and one is in Bryn Mawr. Three other UF women will attend HERS in 2017. The two weeks are focused on providing women in academics with different experiences to help them excel in their careers. Topics focus on basic knowledge skills such as accounting, but also include professional development skills such as speaking, dealing with difficult situations, and negotiating.

Dr. Kati Migliaccio
How does one get invited or become eligible for this training?
KM: Every institution does it differently. There’s a history with some institutions and their relationship with HERS. UF has a long history and the Provost Office has supported women attending HERS for many years (thank you!). Your supervisor or your dean can nominate you, or you can self-nominate when the call for nominations is released. Nominations are reviewed at the UF level; candidates are selected to apply to HERS for acceptance into the program.

What academic disciplines would you say were represented in your training?
KM: The majority of people at Bryn Mawr 2017 were from small liberal arts colleges, but there were also several people from large land-grant institutions. This year they had a STEM program and about half of the Bryn Mawr women were in STEM disciplines. The STEM program within HERS included special breakouts for STEM attendees where STEM issues and speakers were highlighted.
Specifically, were there topics covered that you felt you can immediately apply in your academic work?
KM: There were many topics! We focus so much on our science, or our discipline, that we don’t think about some of the other pieces that could help us do a better job. Examples are basic negotiation strategies, forming working partnerships, and reframing. Also, there were personal discussions on how to manage your time: how to create enough time and not feel guilty about taking time off work for a vacation or for family needs. We also covered how to get your point across through what you say - how to take your value system and move your value system into your conversations so people understand where you’re coming from and the reasoning behind your decisions.

There was also really good advice on finances. How to manage for retirement. And, how universities are being funded and how that’s likely to change. Some topics were really outside of the scope of your disciple but more those pieces that surround it and can either enhance your program or create more of a struggle for your program. 

One of the things that I hope to start to do is to allocate time on my calendar to look at bigger picture issues. For example looking at what’s happening nationally as far as education – and what the research funding future may be. I also hope to spend more time learning about the university system to better engage in activities that interest me such as improving graduate education.
Having attended a HERS training is it something you would recommend to women in academia eligible to attend?
KM: HERS is very specific for women and half of our curriculum was based on inclusive excellence. Whether or not other women would benefit from attending would depend on their future goals. Women interested in learning about or becoming involved in inclusive excellence would greatly benefit from this program. If you’re more interested in maybe going into the budget part of the university, or some other very specialized part, then there might be another training that’s better. If you’re interested in inclusive excellence and some of the unspoken issues and some of the more challenging social elements that are happening in society today, then it’s a really good place for you to go.
Can you elaborate on inclusive excellence?
KM: Inclusive excellence at the university is inclusion of all types of diversity across all aspects of the institution.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you about your HERS experience that you feel we should know?
KM: One of the things that I really liked about the program is that it made a point to say that it’s really easy in academics to get frustrated and get overwhelmed with everything you have to do, but to remember that you come to work, you do your best, and you go home. You’re not supposed to be everything to everybody and you’re not supposed to save the world. You’re supposed to do your job - that reinforcement of: it’s OK if you are sick a day. It’s OK if you don’t apply for every grant. 

The other thing I think we overlook especially as STEM people is that we get really focused on science and then we lose sight of our core values. And are our core values really playing out in our actions with our students, in how we teach, in how we do our research? I was reminded to keep my core values in place so they will help me be a better professor, mentor, and role model.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Joe Sagues and the 2017 ASABE Boyd-Scott Graduate Research Award

Each year at the Annual International Meeting, ASABE recognizes student excellence in the conduct and presentation of research with the Boyd-Scott Graduate Research Award. The competition consists of a written portion and an oral portion. For 2017, UF-ABE’s Joe Sagues, PhD Candidate in Biomass Conversion, placed first in the PhD competition. Fresh off his victory in Spokane, Mr. Sagues agreed to speak with IrriGator about the work he presented in competition and the focus of his current research.

Joe Sagues, PhD Candidate, UF-ABE
What is the focus of your PhD research?
JS: My research is focused on converting agro-industrial residues – low-value, sustainable sources of biomass – into valued products, particularly valuable chemicals. These biomass sources are composed of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin - 3 different polymers that are interwoven within each other. We’re selectively targeting the lignin, and we’re depolymerizing it into its different monomers. Those monomers have high-value applications in human nutrition. They can be used as anti-oxidants, used in sunscreens, used as food preservatives and things like that.

You mentioned low-value biomass. Can you give us an example?
JS: Sugarcane bagasse in the state of Florida is the most abundant agro-industrial residue. After the sugar and juice is squeezed from the cane you’re left with this fibrous material which is called bagasse and they just burn it right now. Thousands of tons a year burned for heat and power. We’re trying to take that and make something a bit more valuable.
Flashback to the Boyd-Scott Award competition at ASABE AIM - what research did you present in the competition?
JS: I focused on the first project I completed around the end of year one of my PhD, which looked at sweet sorghum bagasse. It’s almost identical to sugarcane bagasse but instead of sugarcane we’re using sweet sorghum. It’s bigger in Louisiana than Florida, but it’s an emerging crop in Florida. We took that bagasse and used ethanol in the supercritical state along with some catalysts to depolymerize the lignin into these various valuable chemicals.

One noteworthy component of this process is that the hemicellulose and cellulose (2 of the 3 polymers that make up the bagasse), they remain untouched during the process so that they can be used for other valuable applications afterwards. One of the big issues with lignin is that when you try to depolymerize the lignin you end up degrading the other two components. We’ve kind of avoided that. The catalyst was an iron catalyst - low cost, abundant, non-toxic.

Does the value of this research lie in the novelty and real world applications?
JS: As of right now what we’re doing is too costly, but the approach is new to bio-refining. The last 15 years or so everyone has been focusing on the cellulose mainly to make ethanol fuels and the lignin has been discarded because it’s just really hard to work with. But we’ve found a way to work with it more easily and in doing so keep the cellulose in pristine form so it can still be converted to ethanol. We’re creating more value from the feedstock.

What can you tell us about the research you’re working on currently?
JS: The project I presented at ASABE taught me the fundamentals of this new approach which we call selective lignin depolymerization. But there were some drawbacks, which I’ve moved past. I’ve modified the process. I’m using a copper catalyst now for various reasons. But I’m still sticking to using ethanol in the supercritical state because that’s kind of the special ingredient. I’m still building upon it. Eventually, the most important part that needs to be done is a techno-economic analysis to really figure out how expensive this process is. It seems like it will be expensive but then again we’re making these valuable products that would otherwise be burned or land-filled.

The format of the student awards at ASABE AIM didn’t really allow for acknowledgements. Who would you have acknowledged given the chance?
JS: Definitely my advisor Dr. Tong because of the freedom she gives me. Most research with lignin has focused on these lignin residues from current bio-refining processing and the pulp and paper industry. They generate massive quantities of lignin. So lots of scientists have focused on how do we create high-value chemicals from this lignin residue? But obviously it hasn’t succeeded because there’s nothing commercial yet - the yields are low, super harsh processes.  I came from a different approach. I want to take the lignin from the whole biomass but keep the cellulose pristine so you can still do what you want with it. At first Dr. Tong was kind of hesitant but then was like just go for it. And it ended up working really well. Aside from my advisor, I’d thank Dr. Haman also, who ultimately gave me the fellowship, which gave me the freedom.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you feel our readers should know?
JS: Something people in the biofuel realm, or in the ag and bio realm more broadly, should think about regarding biofuels in my opinion is airplanes and ships. We need to really focus in on those two forms of transportation because light-duty vehicles, even semi-trucks and larger road vehicles will most likely be electric. The technology costs are coming down and there is a lot of momentum right now. I think we’re wasting time making ethanol. Ethanol can only be used in light-duty vehicles. We should be looking at jet fuel and shipping fuel. They may become electric someday but that’s many decades into the future. There’s really not enough sustainable biomass to power the entire light-duty fleet anyway, but there is to power the planes in the sky and the ships in the ocean.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Research and Communications with Dr. Natalie Nelson

One of this summer’s highlights at UF-ABE was celebrating the successful PhD defense of graduate student Natalie Nelson. An NSF Graduate Research Fellow, a U.S. Presidential Management Fellows Program finalist, Dr. Nelson’s accolades go on and on. But we at IrriGator know her as an enthusiastic collaborator whose blog contributions were always illuminating, audience favorites. Before moving on to the next stage in her research career, Dr. Nelson agreed to share some insight about her work, interests, and future endeavors.

Dr. Natalie Nelson of NC State BAE
What was the focus of your graduate studies?
NN: At ABE my studies focused on hydrologic sciences, but then my research was really focused on specifically water quality and more specifically cyanobacteria and phytoplankton in freshwater and brackish systems – using data analytics and models to study long-term monitoring data sets that exist from a few different systems in Florida to try and infer what types of patterns we could detect between these different types of phytoplankton (such as cyanobacteria) and environmental conditions.

Did you always know you were going to pursue a STEM career?
NN: Yes. In high school I remember giving a presentation in my English class explaining that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I’m not sure exactly why I transitioned away from that but I decided that I was really interested in engineering and the applied sciences. It’s kind of interesting to see how things have evolved, where now I’m obviously not a marine biologist but I’ve incorporated some of those interests by focusing on phytoplankton in these estuarine systems but with more of an engineering perspective. I didn’t know that this is where I would end up, but I always was really interested in math and science and I definitely knew I’d be in a STEM field.

You’ve been one of our more popular guest authors on IrriGator, contributing some of the most viewed entries on the blog in 2016. Do you have any tips for graduate students on perfecting writing/ communication skills?
NN: Everything with communication, it takes practice and there are a lot of opportunities that are really easy to access - in terms of different opportunities to present your work in all sorts of different media, whether it be social media or different presentations. There are all these opportunities, but you have to take advantage of them. No one is going to force you into it.
Ultimately, the way in which I’ve been trying to develop my communication skills is just by prioritizing communication and trying to pursue these different opportunities as they arise. So take advantage of opportunities! Don’t let them pass you by. Especially because it does take time so you have to prioritize it. It’s very easy to prioritize research over everything.

You’re active on Twitter. Can you talk about how maintaining this digital presence has been useful to you?
NN: I have learned a lot about various research activities through Twitter that I would not have discovered otherwise. If you’re rather selective in who you choose to follow you can really gain a tremendous amount of information about different initiatives that are being created. Just the other day I learned about this great collaborative research institute that’s being created. It’s right up my alley, so I get to have easy and quick access to this developing group.
In terms of presenting myself and showing some of what I’ve been doing, it’s really easy and very effective. For example, when I posted about the article that I had published in January/February a friend who I know just personally and through courses saw that tweet and then went and looked at the paper and discovered that the method I use was really relevant to what he was working on. Then a bunch of conversations started from there and we’ve been collaborating a bit on a project he’s currently working on. Twitter allows for you to communicate with people quickly and easily who you might not necessarily discuss research with. It has been really practical.

Can you tell us about your new position at North Carolina State University?
NN: I’ve been hired as an assistant professor at NC State to work primarily in research and also in teaching in the area of data analytics and integrated modeling, but as applied to questions that fall within the scope of biological and agricultural engineering. This would span from bio processing to agricultural systems analysis, but then also some of what I’ve done in the past such as water quality evaluations and ecological evaluations. The scope is really broad. The idea with this position is to bring in someone who can work across disciplines within biological and agricultural engineering through the use of a common set of tools such as data analytics and some of these machine learning tools I’ve been using.
In addition, I will also be pursuing projects related to various aspects of estuarine ecology, but from an engineering perspective – looking at how different global and local modes of change might impact estuaries and what does that mean for the people that rely on estuaries.

I’ll be looking for students starting in 2018 so anyone who’s interested in a funded PhD or Masters should contact me!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Spokane Report Back: ASABE AIM 2017

Last month I attended ASABE’s Annual International Meeting in Spokane, WA. Along with hundreds of students, researchers, and experts, I had the opportunity to catch up with colleagues from around the country and see some of the latest research in ag & bio engineering topics.

ABE and the Future
One of the themes of AIM was what role engineers might play in ensuring a sustainable future for an ever-expanding population and its food, water and energy requirements. World Food Prize Foundation President, and keynote speaker, Dr. Kenneth M. Quinn addressed the concern at length. 
And later a distinguished panel on Opportunities in the Food/Water/Energy Nexus got into specifics about research, policy and collaboration. 
There were hundreds of additional presentations at AIM. Peruse the library of technical papers presented at AIM here.

Accolades for UF
UF ABE was a presence at both the student awards breakfast and the awards luncheon at AIM. Dr. Michael Dukes was formally inducted as an ASABE Fellow. In addition, Dr. Kati Migliaccio was named the G.B. Gunlogson Countryside Engineering Award recipient for 2017. 
Among the students, Biomass Conversion PhD candidate Joe Sagues took first place in the Boyd-Scott Graduate Research Competition. And in the robotics design competition the AggreGators surprised everyone with a 4th place finish among 13 teams.

Stay Tuned
Speaking of robotics, my role at AIM involved both social media and digital media work. Watch for short videos summarizing the student robotics and fountain wars design competitions in the months ahead. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Look at Water in South Central Florida

If you stay abreast of water media you may be familiar with Dr. Mary Lusk from handy insight on reclaimed water in Florida and topical research on septic system pollutants. You may also recognize Dr. Lusk as the UF/IFAS Water Regional Specialized Agent for the South Central District. This spring during the Urban Landscape Summit, Dr. Lusk agreed to speak with IrriGator for our on-going series featuring Water RSAs and their districts.

What drew you to the Water RSA position?
ML: I really like that it combines science with communication to the public. To me Extension is just the perfect job because you’re taking scientific information and you’re conveying that to the public. I love that combination. It’s the best of all worlds to me: science and communication.

What are the critical water issues in the South Central District?
ML: My district is a mixed bag. We definitely have a lot of urban land with the Tampa/St. Pete area, and the Sarasota, Port Charlotte and Naples areas. We also have huge amounts of ag in this district. We have strawberry and vegetable row crops in the Hillsborough County area - all the row crops in the Immokalee area. I really have to wear two hats between the urban and ag world.

If you had to focus on one issue as being most important, it’s probably nutrient storage. We have a lot of water bodies that are impaired because of excess nutrients. What I focus a lot on is ways to get the message out of things we can do to reduce our nutrient footprint, reduce that transport of nutrients from land, whether it’s urban or agricultural, to the water.

Do you consider your first year as an RSA a success?
ML: I feel like this past year has been a success. I’ve seen firsthand the issues. I know who the players are. I’ve met so many people at agencies like DEP, FDACS, the water management districts. I’ve learned who the people are and what they’re working on, what’s important to them and by default learned what’s important to Florida. Now that I have this information I feel that I’m ready to go, ready to start tackling some of those problems.

How do you feel having a digital presence on Twitter benefits you and your work?
ML: I really was looking for ways to just expand my reach, reach those folks that I don’t see face to face, perhaps I’ve never met, but folks who are out there looking for this information. Expand my reach. That to me is great. The more people we can get in touch with, all the better.

Read about Water RSAs Charles Barrett, James Fletcher and Lisa Krimsky.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Next Stop: Spokane, WA

Next week students, researchers and industry members from across the globe will gather in Spokane, WA, for ASABE’s Annual International Meeting. I will be attending as well, once again collaborating with ASABE to bring the digital audience inside the goings-on during the event’s four days. Here’s a preview of some of what will happen next week.

Gainesville Presente
There will be a sizeable UF contingent in Spokane. UF-ABE researchers will be presenting in a host of technical sessions from Monday to Wednesday. Our ABE graduate students are exhibiting work in poster sessions ranging from Natural Resources and Environmental Systems to Machinery Systems. Several will also present in technical sessions, including the imminently graduating Natalie Nelson (PhD) who will also moderate the Leveraging Big Data session. 

How heated was Robotics Design Competition at AIM 2016? Take a look!

The UF-ABE robotics team returns to AIM to put their precision ag skills to the test in the robotics competition. In addition, Dr. Michael Dukes, CLCE Director and UF/IFAS irrigation specialist will be officially inducted as a 2017 ASABE Fellow in Spokane.

One of the more exciting aspects of AIM is the professional development opportunities afforded to students. I’ll be working to showcase as many of those as I can – namely in the design competitions like Fountain Wars, where student teams complete tasks with water and engineering (this year beach balls and eggs are afoot) and Robotics Design, where autonomous robots simulate tasks with props on a board (for 2017, the raspberry farm is where we lay our scene). I’ll also move among the poster and technical sessions to highlight exciting graduate student research.

Tune In
Get an inside look at AIM events with IrriGator and ASABE on Twitter on the #ASABEaim17 tag. And if you’re attending AIM make sure to download the event app (iOs or Android) to keep your schedule organized. See you in Spokane! 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A UF/IFAS Water School Near You

Water Schools are an expanding priority for UF/IFAS. The concept was originally conceived in Polk County in the 90s and then caught on throughout neighboring Southwest FL. Currently there are plans to develop water schools in Marion, Brevard, Citrus and Lake/Sumter Counties. On June 27th the Lake/Sumter Water School is set to debut. Event co-organizer Lloyd Singleton (of Sumter County Extension) recently communicated with IrriGator to offer further insight into the Lake/Sumter County effort.

Lloyd Singleton (left) and Steve Turnipseed inspect a FL native (image FANN)
What do you feel is the most pressing water issue in your area of FL?
LS: Rapid planned residential development in the south part of Lake County (Clermont, Minneola, Groveland) and the north part of Sumter County (The Villages) are increasing the demands for water. Lots of new lawns and landscapes with irrigation, so water quantity is of great concern. Given its namesake, Lake County has water quality concerns for the beautiful chains of lakes in the region.

How often are water schools conducted in your counties?
LS: We conducted a water school for local community leaders last summer (2016), and this is our first one open to the general public. One of the outcomes of that water school, where we used Dr. Borisova’s evaluation, was that they suggested the same information be provided to the general public. So that’s what we decided to do this summer. Some of the information may be over the heads of the general public, but I’m not a big believer in dumbing stuff down. Sometimes you need to challenge critical thinking with a little bit of higher level information. 

We are grateful to our sponsors, the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Southwest Florida Water Management District for providing the resources to share this event with the general public. If it is well received and the word spreads, I’m confident we can do more.

The water school program includes quite an array of expertise, who is the intended audience?
LS: The program is open to anyone; we are seeing interest from a wide variety of folks, including Master Gardeners, the environmentally-minded, early adopters of all sorts. We’ve assembled experts in numerous fields related to water, ready to share their expertise and answer your questions about this precious, limited natural resource.

There is a water school goodie bag to entice attendees. What kind of useful items are included?
LS: The gift bag itself is a reusable grocery bag in beautiful UF blue, labeled Water School. We will also provide a flash drive with all of the presenter’s presentations included as .pdfs, a personal water bottle, hose end spray nozzle, a fertilizer guide, bookmark, and lots of Florida-Friendly Landscaping information is included, too.

All of the above and information straight from the experts
Co-organized by Juanita Popenoe, PhD., and Lloyd Singleton, the Lake/Sumter County Water School takes place Tuesday, June 27th. Register here.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Just in Time: Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology Releases a Drought Toolkit

Recently the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (CLCE) released an information package including some of the best IFAS expertise on water-use in a drought context. With municipalities and water management districts in Central and Southwest Florida declaring Phase III water restrictions, this is timely insight to have on hand. Prior to the info release Center Director Dr. Michael Dukes granted IrriGator a brief interview to discuss the CLCE’s role in drought and easy ways to address water-waste in your irrigation system.

What does CLCE hope to achieve with the release of all this drought relevant information/insight?
MD: We’re really trying to promoting awareness of the drought. It has been ten years since we’ve had a drought here this widespread. There have been many pockets of dryness (South Florida for example) in between. But really to promote awareness and get people thinking about that our water resources are limited.
U.S. Drought Monitor stats for FL as of late May. (via USDM)
What role do you feel IFAS and CLCE can play in this kind of context?
MD: Our role right now is the awareness part. What can you do about it. And if you’re faced with drought what are some of your options. But I think the building of the awareness part is one of the most important parts because every day when we’re not in a drought we’re conducting research and education on best practices, use of smart irrigation technologies, efficient irrigation, Florida-Friendly Landscaping – we’re doing all those things year round. If you do implement these things you’ll be better prepared for a drought.

This season I know many of the water management districts have stepped up their messaging about drought. Are there opportunities for collaboration with these entities?
MD: Short answer is I think so. The longer answer is there is not a formal mechanism for it. We don’t have a regular meeting with all five water management districts. However, we do have informal relationships and once we get our drought information package together St. Johns River Water Management District has asked us for it. We’ll help them by providing the best science that we have.
What are some easy, fast ways to implement best practices to reduce water use in a drought context?
MD: Well, the irony of a drought is you need to water. It’s not the best time to cut your water back. If you have a maintained landscape you’re going to be watering it right now, probably quite a bit. But the practices, the research and education that we conduct all will set you up better for a drought. But it’s stuff you have to do before you get there. Putting in a smart controller right now is probably not going to save any water unless you’re ridiculously overwatering. But from the utility data that we’ve seen people tend to underwater a little bit during this time of year. So people are probably struggling to put enough water on to maintain an aesthetic value of their landscape. The need of the landscapes are very high right now.

The low hanging fruit from an irrigation standpoint, drought or not: adjust the throw on your sprinklers so you’re not watering the road, fix breaks, and check for other obvious issues like clogged heads. The more advanced stuff like smart controllers, they may not save you water right now, certainly rain sensors won’t since it’s not raining. But these things will save you water once we do get to that rainy season.

Dive into the CLCE’s Drought Toolkit here.